70,000+ Deadheads streamed into Chicago’s Soldier Field for the first of three Fare Thee Well shows last night, as the core four surviving members of the Grateful Dead teamed up with Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti for an impressive display of musical exploration. The show continued the celebration of the iconic band’s 50th anniversary, while also marking 20 years since the Grateful Dead played their final show with Jerry Garcia at the very same venue.
Phil Lesh helped the group come out the gate strong when he took up lead vocals on his own “Box of Rain,” the tune that closed out the band’s final show with Garcia two decades earlier. Anastasio held things down on the “Jack Straw” that followed, while Bob Weir and Lesh traded vocal duties throughout the song before ceding them Anastasio on “Bertha.” “Passenger” then made a surprising appearance in the setlist, with Weir and Hornsby singing on the number.
After a brief pause in the music to deal with technical difficulties, the band continued in top form as Lesh led them through a “The Wheel” that seamlessly moved into a standout “Crazy Fingers” that featured some excellent interplay between Chimenti and Hornsby on the keys. Anastasio also shined on the tune, but the “The Music Never Stopped” that came next was one of the guitarist’s boldest displays of the night. With that final song, Anastasio appeared to offer his first answer to the critics that accused him of holding back during last weekend’s Santa Clara shows.
Fans were treated to roughly an hour of original Neal Casal compositions during the concert’s intermission, which ended at roughly 9:30. The sunlight’s disappearance brought the night’s visual component into full bloom, as the band returned to the stage beneath a dazzling array of lights. Things then got going with “Mason’s Children,” a Grateful Dead rarity (only played in 1969 and 1970) that brought the crowd back into the right frame of mind.
Next, Anastasio took charge on both vocals and guitar as the group set off into “Scarlet Begonias.” It was nothing but music from there, as the segues continued through the end of the set, with the first being an expected transition into “Fire On The Mountain.” That tune—and everyone besides drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart—faded away for the night’s obligatory “Drums” segment. The improvisational number took some interesting turns before the rest of the band made their way back to the stage for some “Space” exploration that morphed into the obscure “New Potato Caboose.”
Out of “New Potato Caboose” came an expansive “Playing In The Band” that turned into one of the night’s most interesting improvisational experiments, as Weir (who also nailed the vocals) perfectly complemented one of the show’s stronger displays from Anastasio. The Phish guitarist kept up his streak with an almost perfectly realized “Let It Grow” before diving into the classic “Help on the Way/Slipknot!/Franklin’s Tower” sequence to close out the set. While the first two-thirds of the trio didn’t disappoint, it was the “Franklin’s Tower” that really stuck out with its effortless keyboard work and a series of Phish-style moments from Anastasio.
After a quick encore, Lesh took the stage for his traditional donor rap, imploring everyone in the crowd to become an organ donor and paying tribute to Cody, the young man that saved his life by doing just that. The bassist was then joined by his bandmates—with Weir on acoustic guitar—for a moving “Ripple” that put a beautiful exclamation point on a fantastic night of music.
Lesh, Weir, Hart, Kreutzmann, Anastasio, Hornsby and Chimenti will return to Soldier Field tonight for the second of three shows at the Chicago venue. The run marks the final time that the core four surviving members of the Grateful Dead will perform as a unit.
Here’s a look at last night’s setlist:
Friday, July 3, 2015, Fare Thee Well, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Set I: Box of Rain, Jack Straw, Bertha, Passenger, The Wheel> Crazy Fingers, The Music Never Stopped
Set II: Mason’s Children, Scarlet Begonias> Fire on the Mountain> Drumz> Space> New Potato Caboose> Playing in the Band> Jam> Let it Grow> Help on the Way> Slipknot> Franklin’s Tower
Source: Phantasy Tour